By Brian Larsen
Alex Falconer, a lifelong runner and passionate fan of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), recently completed a run of 110 miles in 28 hours, 15 minutes and 3 seconds, which is an amazing feat of endurance.
Even more impressive is the fact that Alex ran this distance across the rugged Border Route Trail and Kekekabic Trails.
As Director of the Government Relations Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, Alex was running to bring awareness to the potential effects that sulfide-ore copper mining conducted on the periphery of the BWCAW could have on the watershed.
Because much of the trail is not accessible to vehicles, Alex had teams stationed at various points along the way to assist him.
“I had a lot of support for the Boundary Waters Traverse in the form of runners as well as aid stations in a unique twist we called “paddle-in aid stations,” he said.
The run was broken into seven segments for planning and aid station purposes.
“I started at the eastern trailhead north of Hovland off the Arrowhead Trail. Grand Marais Mayor Jay Decoux ran the first 12 miles with me. The Border Route Trail hits the Arrowhead Trail at the McFarland Lake campground where he dropped off and Peyton Thomas – a Patagonia-sponsored trail runner and Ph.D. student from North Carolina joined me. We ran to Clearwater Lake, which was the first paddle-in aid station.
“Since 90 of the route’s miles are inaccessible by car, I arranged for friends, family, and coworkers to paddle out. Some camped overnight, to meet me on the trail to provide food, clothes, and gear changes, and offer some emotional support! At one stop, Erica, my wife, our three kids, and Lindsey from the Boundary Waters Podcast with WTIP paddled out with Clare Gallagher, an elite Patagonia sponsored trail runner (winner of the 2019 Western States 100 and 2016 Leadville 100). Clare has served as a major inspiration for this effort as she’s really the face of environmental activism in the running/trail running community. Her involvement has legitimized running and athletic enviro-advocacy circles and is a huge help opening doors for support.
“Peyton paddled out with Erica and the kids and Clare, and I ran through the rest of the heart of the Wilderness from Clearwater Lake to the Rose Lake/ Stairway portage waterfall where Megan Wind and Ingrid Lyons – two staff with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, were set up to meet us at the paddle in aid station for another food and gear break. From there we continued through the rest of the Wilderness to Loon Lake Road – the first road in 40 miles where Erica and the kids met us. Peyton rejoined for the last nine miles of the Border Route Trail and we emerged at the west trailhead around 4:30 am.
At that point, Kyle Pietari, another elite sponsored trail runner and consistent top 10 Western States finisher, joined along with Matt Wardhaugh, one of my friends and manager of The Running Store in the cities for the Kek. We met Levi Lexvold, another staffer with the Campaign and Tim Barton, an outfitting guide from Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely at the portage between Kekekabic and Strip lakes – about 20 miles in with 20 miles to go. They had their aid station set up, food cooked and presented on their overturned canoe in a banquet style set up. We ate, changed socks, and headed to the end, finishing in 28 hours, 15 minutes and 3 seconds!”
What was the most challenging part of the run?
The most difficult was twofold – the heat in the middle of the Border Route Trail. It was mid 80’s and humid. Not my favorite running conditions, but thankfully there’s plenty of lakes to cool off in! The worst part, though, was later on the Border Route Trail when the temp suddenly plummeted to 40 degrees and a thunderstorm broke out, soaking us and chilling us to the core. We kind of had extreme temps on both sides. The dark, cold and wet run for 15 miles was pretty miserable, but when there’s only one way out, you just have to keep moving! We had rain shells on, a couple of layers under that, and I was comfortable as long as we kept moving, we’d stay warm enough to get to Erica. Which we did and promptly warmed up in the car and changed into dry clothes!
How long did it take you to recover?
It’s taken about three weeks to recover fully. Muscle soreness was gone within two days and, actually we took a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters so we could experience the “traditional” way of traveling through the Boundary Waters! By then, I was portaging a canoe and canoe pack over a half-mile portage and doing great!
However, general exhaustion and tired legs have only now subsided, a little over three weeks after the run. It’s important to really recover and rest regardless of how you feel. Tendons and muscles are repairing damage and those couple weeks immediately after are ripe for injury if pushing yourself too hard. But now I’m back to moderate running, averaging about 15-20 miles per week and feeling pretty good!
Did you raise money for the campaign to save the BWCAW?
“Yes! I’m super excited that my running activities have raised more than a few thousand dollars for the campaign, and I’ve generated over 500 emails to lawmakers in support of our federal and state bills to protect the Boundary Waters!”
Explain how you became interested in saving the BWCAW? Do you take many trips into the BWCAW?
“The northwoods, north shore, BWCAW, have always been a part of my summers (and some winters) for my entire life. The Boundary Waters, in particular, is just my favorite place on earth. We average around four to five Boundary Water trips per year as a family. The kids are just so fully invested in the wilderness, and it’s one of my greatest joys to watch them experience and discover the wilderness for themselves and they’re at the point now where they’re helping pick routes, the food plan, packing and all of those logistics.”
How long have you worked at your organization?
“When I heard of the proposals for sulfide ore copper mining within a quarter mile of the Wilderness border, I was shocked, saddened and angered and looking for ways to help out. The thought that my kids might not have the wilderness was just so mind-numbing and frankly frightening.”
“The Campaign posted for job positions late in 2014, and I jumped into the pool and was lucky enough to get on board in January of 2015, running the legislative and organizing program. It’s been a wild ride the past six years, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever worked on. There’s so much deeply felt love for the Boundary Waters, not only in Minnesota but across the country.
“We have supporters in nearly every congressional district in the country, for example, and that translates into an amazing grassroots base, and I love working with people who share in the love for the Boundary Waters and desire to see it protected for all future generations to come.”